For those who have read the original genealogies by Emily Noyes [see our PUBLICATIONS page for more info], you would have noticed the name of Joseph P Leavitt (or JPL), of Chicago, mentioned numerous times as a source. Who was he?
Joseph Parker Leavitt was thrice descended from Moses Leavitt, son of Deacon John Leavitt, the immigrant [Descendants of Moses Leavitt, pg 144], born in Dover, NH in 1830. He married in Lowell, MA in 1850 to Mary Apphia Smith, then proceeded west to Cincinnati.
At this time, he began gathering addresses of those with a Leavitt surname (mostly from the New England states), and proceeded to send out form letters, hoping to receive genealogical information back from the recipients, in order to start organizing a genealogy of the descendants of Dea. John Leavitt of Hingham, MA and Thomas Leavitt of Hampton, NH.
Below are two versions of the blank forms he mailed out. The later version (on right) was amended to include all of New England, instead of the original plan of just the New Hampshire Leavitt families.
Below is a notice from an 1880 New England Historical and Genealogical Register periodical, announcing JPL's book in progress.
"A Genealogical Record of the Leavitt families of New England, and Their Descendants" was never completed. Joseph's wife Mary died on 4 March 1883 and, three weeks later, both Joseph and his daughter Rosalind were declared insane and sent to a state asylum. Joseph died the day following his sentence, on the 23rd [death record unavailable online at this time to view cause of death], while Rosa passed away the following March. From the following newspaper article, Rosalind was committed due to anxiety and lack of sleep, because of her mother's passing. Joseph's mental strain, however, was the result of "waking up the genealogical history", according to the testimony in court.
At the time of his passing, Joseph had already written some 1000 letters to Leavitt kin around the country. The information he gleaned from his correspondence had been copied into notebooks, 12 volumes in total. His estate donated this material to the Chicago Historical Society, where Emily Noyes found this treasure trove of information while she was compiling her books, and integrated his research into her own.
The works of JPL were later moved to the Newberry Library in Chicago, where they are still housed today. In 2004, NALF genealogist Ray Thomas visited the library and photocopied a large amount of the JPL papers. What he could not do while there, he arranged to have done by the staff, and mailed to him. With much of the Joseph P. Leavitt research now in hand, we (the NALF genealogist team) could compare his work with that of Emily's books, in order to properly source all of the data, and to (hopefully) find where all of the names and dates had originated and to give proper credit where needed.
This work continues, and the research on the new genealogy books still moves forward.